When Jane Wooldridge, senior director for journalism sustainability and partnerships at the Miami Herald, reached out to local stakeholders to learn what topics they felt needed more coverage, she wasn’t surprised that climate change was at the top of the list.
“I don’t really have to explain why — I live in Miami,” she said. “We’re surrounded by water. It’s getting higher.”
The Herald was part of the 2022 LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, which helps news organizations craft a plan for fundraising. Woolridge said the lab provided a framework and a strategy that understood the “peculiarities of journalism.”
In April 2022, the Herald announced it had received a $200,000 leadership gift from the Lynn & Louis Wolfson II Foundation, along with additional funding from Florida International University in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundationand philanthropist Ken O’Keefe — all to support expanding its coverage of climate issues and impacts in South Florida.
Part of the key strategy for lab participants is to talk to people in the community about what they want to fund. She said there’s a fine line — funders need to be interested in a topic and underwhelmed by current coverage.
“If the community thinks you’re already doing a really great job with something, it’s hard to get buy-in for additional support,” she added.
She said newsroom leaders who are looking to fundraise need to be realistic about what they can and cannot achieve.
“Don’t think that you can just hand this off to somebody as a third of their 57 jobs and that they’re going to be effective,” she said. “It takes buy-in from everybody. If your executive editor isn’t 100%, and if your senior leadership team and the company aren’t 100% supportive, you will not succeed.”
Wooldridge said the Lab’s practical steps helped her feel more comfortable asking for money.
“We’re not professional fundraisers,” she said of the participants in the lab. “We’re journalists. So how do you figure out how to do this? And how do you figure out how to do this after you’ve spent your life being told you should never ask anybody for anything?”
Wooldridge emphasizes to funders that they are not simply giving money to the Herald, but that it is a collaboration. The Herald’s in-kind contributions include mentoring of fellows, expert editing, distribution and engagement.
The Herald has also raised funds for full-time arts and economic inequity coverage, and is hoping to hire its climate reporting team — an editor, an audience engagement specialist and a data visualization reporter — soon.
As a for-profit paper, all donations come through Journalism Funding Partners, which acts as the Herald’s fiscal sponsor. The Herald’s contract with JFP requires the fiscal sponsor to keep close track of all spending — and even withdraw funding if it is not being spent according to the donor’s wishes.
Wooldridge said finding out what issues people are passionate about helped her explain how coverage in the Herald could support their cause.
“It’s not up to us to advocate for any particular action,” she said. “But by writing about it frequently, and doing solutions-based journalism, we can help individual citizens and communities make their own informed choices.”